Can a $2,000 bottle of Scotch whisky really justify the price?
That's what I aimed to determine when I poured myself a wee dram of The Last Drop, a blend of malt and grain whiskies all distilled and barreled prior to 1960.
At a time when the drinking public can't seem to get enough of premium single-malt whiskies and long-aged, blended whiskies, it doesn't surprise me to find a product like this hitting the market. But my skepticism antenna elevates from my head and palate when I get the call about such a product.
The Last Drop Distillers is a London-based company founded by spirits industry veteran Tom Jago—whose exploits have been connected with Johnnie Walker Blue, Bailey's Irish Cream, The Classic Malts and Chivas Regal and Royal Lochnagar—and his partners James Espey and Peter Fleck.
Take the Low Road
The partners, who have worked on other whiskies and products together in their career travels, scoured communities around Scotland looking for old storage warehouses where some gems might be found. Their search took them to "The Old Dunnage Warehouse at Auchentoshan," a Lowland town Northwest of Glasgow on the outskirts of Clydebank in Dumbartonshire.
The whisky that the partners are offering up at such lofty prices, and limited to 1,347 bottles, was distilled and blended in 1960. After 12 years in American oak, it was transferred in 1972 to sherry casks, where it remained for 36 years. That's long enough that two-thirds of the liquid in the casks evaporated—the "angels' share."
According to the company, the whiskey was made from some 70 malt whiskies from several distilleries no longer operating, as well as a dozen grain whiskies.
Sweeter and Darker
Distilleries today are making extensive use of sherry casks, which typically imparts taste notes of raisins, dried apricots, prunes, as well as a darker color. Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish 12-year ($60), which is matured in American oak for 10 years and finished in sherry wood for two years, is one example. The Macallan 12-year Sherry Oak ($66) is another. Both get middling reviews from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2008.
Finishing whisky in sherry wood, when done well, puts a touch of fruit, honey, and depth that might otherwise only come from an extra decade of aging in American oak.
Leaving the whisky in sherry wood for as long as The Last Drop was aged almost turns it into a product one wants to find a word besides "whisky" to describe.
Bottled at cask strength (104-proof), I've seldom seen a whisky so brown. As I tasted it, I was immediately transported to the Glenmorangie storage barn in Scotland, where last May master distiller Bill Lumsden drew out a sample from a "lost" barrel that had spent seven years in a sherry cask instead of the usual two. That liquid was so close to the taste of maple-walnut ice cream that it could have been liqueur.
Oaky and Peaty
The Last Drop not surprisingly shows lots of the oak in its flavor and tongue feel. Besides the unmistakable dark dried-fruit tastes of figs, dates, and raisins, I get some chocolate on my palate as well and a hint of molasses. The finish is understandably jammy. But the toasted oak is underneath every flavor note. And I can still detect a whisper of the peat coming from the Islay malts that are part of the blend. This is a big, round, lip-smacking whisky. But not cloying. The balancing to avoid being as rich as ice cream was well achieved in the barrel.
I started to wonder as I sipped if two-thirds of the barrels really evaporated, or if the storage barn workers made liberal use of the wine-thief over the years. I know I would have.
Is it worth the price tag? This is one of those instances where I yield to the buyer's wallet and latest brokerage statement. Two-thousand dollars for a bottle none of his or her friends is likely to have in the cabinet is worth something to some people. The Last Drop (I don't much like the name) is about exclusivity. If two grand is to the buyer what $200 might be to a more average-incomed connoisseur, then it may not be too much to pay. Whatever the buyer's income, though, it helps that this is a very grand and distinctive whisky.
Although many of the bottles are spoken for, inquiries should go to the company's London offices, reachable at email@example.com. And if even you can't (or don't) want to spend $2,000 on a bottle of whisky, maybe you know a well-heeled whisky fan who does. If you tell them about The Last Drop, maybe they'll let you enjoy a glass or two.